Greenwich boys tennis team slams Staples, blitzes Ridgefield and make a huge statement

Greenwich High School's Tatsuya Tasaki returns a volley during Monday's game against Staples High School.

Greenwich High School’s Tatsuya Tasaki returns a volley during Monday’s game against Staples High School. — Paul Silverfarb photo

The Greenwich High School boys tennis team had an important test earlier this week and passed with flying colors.

On Monday afternoon, the Cardinals traveled up to Westport for a match against a fellow unbeaten Staples High School tennis team. Only 24 hours later, Big Red was back at the tennis courts, battling another premier FCIAC team, Ridgefield High School.

In a statement game against the Wreckers, Greenwich came away with the 5-2 victory. The Cards backed that up with another 5-2 victory over Ridgefield.

“It’s a great year and I have a lot of talent,” Greenwich head coach EJ Haskell said. “They are a really nice group of guys to work with and we are having a great season.”

Against Staples High School, Big Red won four of the five singles matches. Leading the way was Blake Niehaus at No. 1 singles, who upended Staples’ Jake Hirschberg 6-3, 7-6 (7-5).

“Jake is one of the best singles players in the FCIAC and Blake is as well,” Haskell said. “Two of the best players in the FCIAC were battling. No one was going to have an easy win.”

“In my match, Jake is a real fighter and didn’t give up,” Niehaus said. “I won the first set, but he hung tough in the second and I started to lose focus. He started to get more confident and was starting becoming very hard to break serve, especially late in the set. I had to work hard to hold my serve and I was able to get it to a tiebreaker and pull it out in the end.”

At No. 2 singles, Greenwich’s Zach Niklaus was up against Josh Moskowitz and also came out with the straight set victory, winning 7-5, 6-4. Competing at No. 3 for Big Red was Tatsuya Tasaki, who was able to beat Staples’ Zack Levin 6-2, 6-3. Rounding out the winnings in singles for Greenwich was Chris Salisbury at No. 5, who upended Baxter Stein 6-3, 7-5.

Staples’ lone victory in singles was at No. 4, as Luke Foreman was able to take down Greenwich’s Ari Cepelwicz 6-2, 6-1.

“I think we were playing really well and we had a lot of people cheering for each other,” junior Shaw Speer said. “That really helps everybody. Today we played our best and I think they played really well. It’s fun to play tennis when both team are playing so well.”

Speer, along with teammate Louis McKenzie was part of Greenwich’s No. 1 doubles team that beat Staples’ Connor Mitnick and Jack Reardon 6-4, 7-6 (12-10). In fact, their victory was the clincher that gave the Cardinals its victory against the Wreckers.

“Coming into the match, we knew it was going to be the toughest game yet,” McKenzie said. “I think Shaw and myself really prepared well for the match. During the match we played fine, but I haven’t been that nervous for a match in a long time. It was a relieving feeling coming off the court with a victory. The whole time playing them I wasn’t sure who was going to win.”

Staples got its doubles victory at No. 2, as the SHS duo of Jared Eisenberg and Jason Chaskin beat the Greenwich team of Mark Chien and Marcos Eslava 6-4, 6-2.

Big Red's Blake Niehaus serves the ball to his Staples opponent during Monday's match. — Paul Silverfarb photo

Big Red’s Blake Niehaus serves the ball to his Staples opponent during Monday’s match. — Paul Silverfarb photo

With the overall victory, Greenwich made a huge step in locking up the No. 1 seed in the upcoming FCIAC tournament.

“I’m really happy for the team,” Niehaus said. “It’s really difficult to come into Staples on the road. They definitely bring out the big crowds. There was a lot on the line today, like the No. 1 seed in the FCIAC playoffs. All the matches were close, but I am really proud of my teammates because we hung in there and won some tight matches. We showed a lot of heart out there.

Haskell said that beating Staples is meaningful because of how the Cardinals had to really work for the victory.

“This was a really good match for us,” Haskell said. “Staples continues to be our toughest opponent and every match today was a battle. What was really nice was that everybody was playing well. We got a couple of easy breaks and they got a couple of easy breaks, but overall the level of play was so high. It is just really nice to win at such a high level.”

For Haskell, playing Staples is always fun, as both teams have a fair amount of respect towards each other.

“The Staples players and coaches, the Greenwich players and coaches, and the fans have a lot of mutual respect for each other,” Haskell said. “The players have a healthy rivalry and there are a lot of good calls everywhere. I saw my players calling a close play the right way and I saw Staples’ players calling close plays the right way. One player even overturned his call. This is something that you should be seeing between two top teams.”

With little time to rest, the Cards were once again battling a top FCIAC opponent in Ridgefield High School.

Niklaus was at No. 1 singles for Greenwich and upended Arnold Valentin 6-3, 6-3. Not to be outdone was Niehaus at No. 2 singles, who beat Ridgefield’s Matt DePrima 6-0, 6-1. Tasaki kept the good times rolling at No. 3 singles, beating Ridgefield’s Tommy Knortz 6-0, 6-0.

Greenwich’s Cepelewicz took care of Ridgefield’s Hans Reuter 6-2, 6-0 and Salisbury gave Greenwich a clean sweep of singles competition with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Tal Nazan at No. 5 singles.

The Tigers got both of its wins in doubles. Ridgefield’s Doug Buttarini and Bryson Mosley finished off Greenwich’s Speer and McKenzie in the match of the day, 7-5, 5-7, 10-4. At No. 2 doubles, Keillor Mose and Pat Sheehan-Delany beat Greenwich’s Chien and Axel Hebrand 6-2, 6-4.

With the victories against the Wreckers and Tigers, the Cardinals upped their conference record to a perfect 13-0 on the season.

“The players have stepped up and there’s a lot more team unity,” Haskell said. “They really care a lot more about the team winning than their own performance. It’s evident by my No. 1 and No. 2 singles players. They are very close in ability and have no problem letting the other play No. 1 at any time. We don’t have big egos on this team.”

When it comes to the team’s chances this postseason, both Haskell and the Cardinals have high hopes. However, the head coach knows that there is still plenty of work to do.

“I would like to work on some return to serves and what to do when we are not on offense,” Haskell said. “We want to improve on our defense if we get in a position where we are needing to rely on our defense. It’s not something we are used to doing, so I would like to work on that. We also need to push ourselves in practice a little more.”

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